In the midst of her team’s longest losing streak since 2000, coach Sylvia Hatchell thought she had run out of solutions.
She approached her struggling veteran point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid with a proposition.
Don’t worry about leadership anymore. Just play like you used to.
In a 65-59 overtime win against Wake Forest, the veteran point guard proved she could do both.
DeGraffenreid captained a late rally and a valiant overtime effort against the Demon Deacons (15-11, 6-6) with a team-leading 15 points along with nine rebounds, six assists and no turnovers.
With the win, UNC (17-8, 5-6) snapped a five-game losing streak, including its most recent tough double-overtime loss against Virginia.
Coming into the game, the Tar Heels had fallen out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll — ending a 163-week streak that began in 2001.
But after rallying from an early 16-point deficit, North Carolina showed that it would begin its crawl back.
“It feels good to win,” Hatchell said. “I’m really proud of the team for coming back the way they did.”
With 7.1 seconds remaining in regulation, DeGraffenreid drove into the lane as she had done so many times before.
She crossed over her defender and delivered a layup to tie the game at 56-56 and send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Tar Heels held the Demon Deacons to just three points and extended their lead with four key buckets from freshman Cierra Robertson-Warren.
“I knew she could do it,” Hatchell said. “I knew she could do it. She’s taking ownership of this team, and that’s what we need her to do.”
In the beginning of the game, it looked as if the Tar Heels would not be so lucky.
Wake Forest got off to a hot start led by the efforts of Secily Ray, who had 15 first-half points.
With 11:52 remaining in the first half, Wake Forest led 24-14 while shooting a smoldering 61 percent from the field. Bolstered by Ray’s prolific first-half performance, the Demon Deacons entered halftime trailing 33-25.
But as they began to cool off, UNC began to take over.
After struggling as Wake Forest employed double teams in the post, North Carolina made halftime adjustments that proved effective.
“We changed the offensive set in the second half,” Hatchell said. “That made it more difficult for them when they would double down low.”
With 13:39 remaining, DeGraffenreid drained a three-pointer to rally within seven points of Wake Forest.
The shot initiated an offensive takeover by the veteran guard. For the next seven minutes, DeGraffenreid scored 11 of the Tar Heels’ 13 points.
Finally, with 7:05 remaining in the game, the junior capped the offensive burst with a signature layup as she raced along the baseline to tie the game at 42-42.
In the beginning of overtime, DeGraffenreid assisted every basket scored by the Tar Heels.
Robertson-Warren was the first recipient, who led off a clutch four-point overtime performance with a turnaround jumper.
Just minutes later, DeGraffenreid dished out another assist to Warren’s waiting hands in the paint to put the Tar Heels up 56-50.
Italee Lucas sealed the win after drawing a foul with one second left.
“It’s a great feeling just to get that win, DeGraffenreid said. “We knew we could do it all along.
“We were tired of losing.”
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